392 | Overcoming Life Overwhelm: Two Books and One App That Changed My Life (Jessica Smartt)
Recently I found myself in a season of complete stress and mental overwhelm. In God's grace, I found two books that completely changed how I live my day-to-day life as a homeschool mom. I am sharing them in this episode in the hopes that they are helpful to you as well!
Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.
Thank you to our sponsors!
Medi-Share: an affordable Christian alternative to traditional health insurance
Tuttle Twins: children’s books to help you teach your kids how the world really works
Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? We hope to see you there!
Jessica Smartt Hi, this is Jessica Smartt joining you here today. I'm excited to share with you a little bit of what's on my heart and what I've been thinking about. Make sure that you check out my homeschool course: Homeschool Bootcamp. The link is in the show notes. And of course, it's always a great time for picking up a copy of one of my two books, Memory-Making Mom: Building Traditions That Breathe Life Into Your Home and Let Them Be Kids: Adventure, Innocence, Boredom, and Other Gifts Kids Need. Of the two, I would say pick up Memory-Making Mom as we're launching into the fall. Fall is a great time to make memories and I see some wonderful holidays coming up.
So I'm going to jump in here with what we're talking about today. There's a lot in my head and I'm excited about this podcast. I want to start with explaining a little bit of background information and kind of story. As I'm recording this it Is the month of August. We're getting ready to launch into our new school year and three months ago...four months ago, in the spring, as we were heading into the summer, I was in a very, very difficult place. Probably one of the worst spots emotionally, physically, mentally I have been in in a very, very long time. I truly was wondering if I was getting some sort of a memory disease because I couldn't put two thoughts together and someone would ask me something and my brain would go to mush. And being a subtle, low-key hypochondriac that I am, of course, I thought that something was wrong with my brain, and someone really wise...I posted a Facebook question in a Facebook group that I really love and somebody was like, You just sound like you're really tired and overwhelmed. And I thought, No, it couldn't be that, there's seriously something wrong with my head. I can't even think, I can't function, I can't sleep, I am having so much anxiety, so many physical symptoms. Distancing myself now from the situation, I was in a severe place of overwhelm. And as homeschool moms, I think that's really common to experience in the spring. If you have kids who play or involved in any activities, that always ramps up. Obviously we're finishing school, most people, and you are exhausted. So it's common for me to feel a little bit of overwhelm. Actually, it's common for me to feel pretty burnt out in the spring, but this was a whole new level of feeling like I wasn't even functioning and I knew I had to do something, which I did on a lot of different levels.
But what I'm sharing with you today, I shared a little bit with my mom of just what my brain was doing and how I was so emotionally in a bad place, mentally in a bad place. And she said, Well, I know what you need. This is what you need to do and you need to read this book. So she handed me a book off of her shelf that looks like it was written in 1989. The cover's terrible. I think it's been redone since then, but it's called Getting Things Done. It has a picture of this dude on the cover. And it was just this old book and I was like, No, you're completely misunderstanding the situation. I have a serious problems here, and you're trying to have me read this old book about like, organization. But I was very desperate. And Mom does have a pretty good track record of having something noteworthy to say. It was a gift from the Lord that about this season I had one of our trips planned with my son. Many of you who follow me on Instagram know that I travel across the country every three months with my son to do food allergy desensitization treatments, and that's a whole thing in itself, but these trips have actually become kind of a cool little vacation. I mean, it's super stressful and the doctor's appointments are stressful, but just me and my 14-year-old son travel across the country and, you know, spend a couple of days in California. And so in some ways it provides a little bit of downtime. And of course, when you're on a plane, you have a lot of downtime. And so basically I asked another group for book recommendations and someone gave me the book Essentialism. So I ordered that. And then I had, of course, this old copy of Getting Things Done that my mom had given me. So I'm on the plane feeling like my life is falling apart and my mind is falling apart, but I had a notebook and a pen and these two books and this is a long flight for me to fly across the country so...I think this four and a half hours...I took probably 25 pages of notes out of the two books, more one than the other. But I am not exaggerating when I say that they have changed my entire trajectory of my life. And I want to share a little bit about what I've learned from these two books. They kind of piggyback off of one another, but they're very different.
So I'm going to start with Essentialism, although that was actually the second that I read and that was the one that I took the least notes on. It's a newish book. Greg McKeown who...by the way, the links to both of these books are going to be in the show notes so if you want to make sure you're getting the right edition, the right copy, go in there. So Essentialism is pretty new. The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is the subtitle. So truthfully, I felt like it could have been probably half as long and still helpful, but it was essential to read, I would say. And I'm going to talk you through a little bit about what he says and why it mattered so much to me and why I feel like it really would be helpful for you as you are just balancing a lot in your life, as I know that most homeschool moms are, homeschool parents. So his basic question is what is the one thing you could do that would make the highest contribution? And that question alone, I really just sat in that for a long time. What is the one thing you could do that would make the highest contribution? And he talks about how there's so many things in our life that are not contributing to the main goal that we're trying to accomplish, the highest point of contribution, the right thing for the right reason at the right time. So that is why we should do something, why we should schedule something or have some sort of a commitment. If you could do just one thing with your life right now, he asks, what would it be? And I sat in that for a very long time and realized that I had so many things on my plate that were not for this reason. So he says if we feel utter and complete conviction to do something, we say yes, if not, we say no. If the answer isn't a definite yes, then it should be a no. If something's a seven or eight, it's a no. Almost good enough is a no. If there's one thing that you are passionate about and that you can be best at, do just that one thing.
Now for sure, this is just a little bit more complicated when you are a mom, because there's a lot of duties in our life that we have to do. And maybe there are things in your life that aren't your highest goal, but they're on your plate and the Lord has put them in your life. And so there's a little bit of kind of just sifting through realism, I guess, but at the same time I realized that I had opted to add so many things to my plate for probably not a great reason, like I was afraid to tell someone no, I had just been always doing it and I didn't want to go back and quit it, I felt like I "should do it" or I had just somehow gotten stuck with it. I made a list basically of...and if you hear me flipping pages, there were just too many notes in my little notebook, so I didn't take notes off of it and you may her me flipping. I made a list of what is absolutely essential in my life. And I probably had 12 things, 15 things. And I listed out certain friendships that I really felt like were essential in my life and relationships, certain relationships. So I made a list of the things that were absolutely essential, and I wrote that if I could do only one thing with my time, it would be to be a good mom. I also realized that I have a calling to write, and I struggled with that a lot to try to figure out where that fit in and if that was a wrong season. I really was prayerful and talked to a lot of different people about realizing where that kind of calling fits in, and I'm not sure that I've completely arrived at the right decision, but God has definitely continued to lead and guide me. And maybe there's something similar in your life where you're not completely sure, it's kind of a question mark. I really wrestled with the career, I guess, thing more than anything. But I went ahead and made a list of all of the things that were on my plate, like I said. It was insane. I read over the list and it made me want to cry because I realized no wonder I had been so overwhelmed with all of the commitments on my plate. And it was very easy to see immediately the things that needed to go because they did not fit the vibe of what I was absolutely essentially trying to accomplish.
And so that was kind of the first thing I did with my life was really, like, tally up everything on there and relentlessly get rid of the commitments that I needed to say no to. And so it specifically involved, if you're curious, stepping down from being a director at our homeschool co-op. That was a really hard decision. I love those ladies. I'm still very involved, as in the volunteer capacity, but not being a director. But it has been incredibly life-giving to step out of that because I realize it was just a square peg, round hole for this season of my life. And then I also was the women's ministry director at our church, and it was a huge relief to step down out of that. So those were two big giant things that I got off my plate. But even little things, I think I've just realized how many little things I sign up for without realizing the toll that they take on me and my kids and my schedule and my energy. And so just trying to be very ruthless with how I am with my yeses. And I know that's a little bit abstract, but read the book and think about that question of what is the one thing you could do that would make the highest contribution and make a list of the things in your life and just get rid of the things, as the Lord leads you, the commitments that you've taken on that aren't from Him, that are just taking your energy away from the things you should be doing. So that's number one.
Okay. Then I read I would say the more impactful book, practically speaking, was Getting Things Done. And if you're not familiar with Getting Things Done, it's an organizational system. This book has gone ballistic. It's actually still relevant and people are using the techniques. But here's the premise of it, "Most of this stress people experience comes from unfulfilled internal commitments or things that you feel responsible for." So how do you get rid of this stress? He suggests that if it's on your mind, your mind isn't clear. You need to capture these thoughts outside of your mind, then you need to clarify exactly what you have to do, and then three, you have to keep your reminders organized, again, outside of your mind. And this was a huge reason that I was feeling super stressed because a lot of things were either on my mind or they were in these scattered to- do lists in various places and so my mind was not clear and I always had this constant sense that I was dropping the ball and needed to remember something. And I have a lot of things in my head for a lot of different categories. And so it was just stress, stress, stress, stress. So this book basically allowed me to come up with a system to get the to-do lists out of my head and in a really smart, efficient system. So he kind of talks through like a workflow and you basically do a giant dump in your life and collect every little thing that represents a to-do task in your life. Like literally go around your house and if there's a broken appliance, you're either going to drag it into a room or you're going to make a note that represents fix, you know, or return toaster oven, whatever it is. Every single thing that's in your life that is hanging over your head, you're going to make one giant list. And so I did that. And then you need to create a system for how you're going to do all these things. And he basically makes the point that a lot of people have a to-do list, but the average person, if they had one to-do list, it would be like 400 things long and it would all be different dates due so it's not really a helpful system to you, which was kind of how I was functioning. So you really need several different lists. And I'm not going to lie, this was a little bit complicated to wrap my head around initially, but I knew that it was going to be helpful, so I hung in there.
So he talks you through all of the steps of how to organize all of these different categories of your lists, because you basically...he has you...I'm sorry, I'm flipping through for the different categories. You have a project list, a someday/maybe list, a to-do list, an immediate list day specific. I realized that was probably very...like there's a lot there, but he talks you through those are the different categories that the typical person has and how to basically organize it so that you have a way to, you know, every...let's say your Amazon Subscribe and Save is due on the 12th of the month, you have a way to remind yourself when that upcoming thing is. Or if you have an appointment in six months, instead of keeping it on your head or whatever, there's going to be something that's going to prompt you. And so a calendar is part of it, but it's also tasks that can be assigned to these are done on a specific time. And as he talked about the system, it was...he uses a tickler file, which is like paper system because the Internet was barely a thing when he wrote it. And so I kept thinking, surely there's a system out there that someone has taken this and made a system that is more digital-wise. And I was on a plane at the time that I was taking these notes, but I said, when I when I land, I'm going to research. I'm sure someone has come up with some sort of system to implement these philosophies into a world that uses some sort of an app or email or, you know, reminders on your phone. And so what I learned is that getting things done is a whole thing, and GTD, they call it for short, and there are podcasts. There are actually several apps just designed for the system. And I did a lot of research over the coming weeks to try to figure out which app or system or how I wanted to basically use his principles in my actual life because I knew that this was the solution.
Once I had (a) gotten rid of all of the things that weren't essential in my life, still I had a heck of a lot to do and things to keep in my head, and I had to get them out of my head. So I knew I needed some sort of a system. And after a ton of research, I landed on the app called Things...Things 3, I think maybe is what it's actually called, I just called Things. And again, I'll link this in the show notes. So it was $9 to buy it on my phone and I bought it there just to test and realized that, yes, it was very simple and would be a helped me. So I tried it out for like a week and then it was $50 to buy it for my computer. I use a Mac so they can link up. I believe that it is a Mac specific program, but there are ones that you can use for other systems. But anyway! So that was kind of a tough buy because I was like, That's kind of a lot of money. I want to make sure that I am like, Actually, this is it and I'm not going to have to turn around and buy another program. But I did, and it has been incredible. So I have different lists on my Things app and they sync so I can add it on my phone if I'm out or on a computer at the end of the day or whatever. And I have lists for, for example, the things that I have to do for my homeschool, my own homeschool, things that I have to do for my homeschool community, things that I'm working on for my business. Right now, for example, I created a list of things just before the start of our school year, and I'm plugging through that list. And then of course, you have an inbox in a today, which are things that...I'll be honest, I'm probably using this at like a 25% or maybe 50% capacity—there's so much you can do. But still, it has been incredibly helpful and I am just in such a better place between getting rid of the things on my plate and implementing these systems that somebody else has come up with. I've had to do a lot of tweaking. And I'd love to hear from you if this is something that you would like to hear a little bit more in depth, maybe I can do a part 2 and I'd love to know your questions. So please reach out to me if you listen to this and let me know what was helpful. Let me know if you have any additional questions. The best way to reach me is over at Instagram @Jessica.Smartt.
But I would ask you just in closing the same question that he asked: what is the most essential thing in your life? And then can you eliminate everything else? And I'll rephrase: what's the most essential thing in your life right now? And what are things that you absolutely have to eliminate in order to accomplish the goals that God has set for you? And there were some tough conversations that were involved. There was a lot of tears, a lot of prayer, a lot of fear. And on the other side, I have been so blessed in many ways, and I've noticed that God has taken care of the things and...not to say that it's a simple answer, and I'm sure that it did cause stress for the people that you have to say no to, but the Lord had a plan and he cared for those situations and those people that I was worried about saying no to. So this is just an encouragement to ruthlessly evaluate your life. And if you've chosen homeschooling, it means that to do it well you have to say no to other things. Not everything. And like I said, I felt like his was maybe a little bit simplistic because our lives are just super complicated as homeschool moms with including a lot of things that we maybe would prefer not to be doing, but we just have to. But it certainly is a good reminder not to take on things just because we feel bad or just because we're scared to get out of them or just because it sounds fun. We have to be wise and strategic with our time. And one person that's been kind of helpful with this is Mystie Winkler. I'll pop a link in there as well to her blog. There's some pretty cool resources. I believe she kind of uses a system, I guess, for homeschool moms. So, again, reach out and let me know your thoughts. I hope this has been helpful to you and as you kick off your school year, I pray that the Lord would sustain you and give you wisdom as you lead your family. Bye-bye.